Is Wind Power Good for the Borderland?

Weather Talk

POSTED: Tuesday, May 13, 2014 - 12:13pm

UPDATED: Tuesday, May 13, 2014 - 3:27pm

A different renewable energy resource has proven its effectiveness in our region due to its abundance and predictability

When ever I write a “Weather Talk” on the topic of wind, I always have someone say” How come the Borderland does not have more wind turbines?” or “Why do we not use the wind as a renewable energy source?” I have wondered the same thing after 19 years here in the Borderland experiencing our windy seasons. In today’s “Weather Talk” I will look at wind energy, the pros and cons and how another renewable energy resource, solar, may be more efficient and cost effective.

Did you know wind is actually a form of solar energy? Wind is formed by of the uneven heating of the atmosphere by the sun, the irregularities of the earth's surface, and the rotation of the earth. Wind flow patterns and speeds are enhanced or modified by bodies of water, vegetation, and mountains and valleys. We have used for many purposes throughout time from windmills to sailing, flying a kite, and even generating electricity.

Windmills are the original “wind turbine” Wind turbines convert the kinetic energy in the wind into mechanical power. This mechanical power has been used for and still is used for specific duties like pumping water or grinding grain. You include a generator and this generator can convert this mechanical power into electricity. We call these uses of the winds kinetic energy “wind power” or “wind energy”

A wind turbine is made up of airfoils, a drive train and a generator. The wind passes over the airfoils or blades that air like a propeller. The wind passing over or through these blades or foils creates a force called aerodynamic lift. This lift causes the blades to rotate the central hub and shaft they are connected to. The shaft is part of a drive train that turns the generator and produces electricity.

There are many positives about the wind turbines when it comes to our environment. They save us from using and depleting our natural resources like, coal, natural gas or oil to produce electricity. The wind turbines do no create any waste hazardous to our environment; nothing goes into the air or water.

I researched El Paso Electric’s Hueco Mountain Wind Ranch which is located east of Horizon City and about 35 miles from downtown El Paso. This wind ranch construction began in December 2000 and was completed over a year later at a cost of 2.2 million dollars. There are only two wind turbines but they are big! According to;

“The EPE Wind Ranch consists of two 660 kilowatt V-47 Vestas wind turbines with 77-ft.-long rotor blades (154 ft. diameter) mounted on 213-ft. towers. The turbines were built in Denmark and shipped to the U.S. in January 2001. The towers consist of three sections. The top two sections were constructed at Bergen Steel of Canutillo, Texas, and the bottom section was built in Utah.

The wind turbines are expected to eventually generate approximately 3,000,000 kWh of electricity a year, which is equivalent to the energy needed to power approximately 500 average El Paso households.

Wind turbines generate the most energy during the winter and spring months.
The wind turbines begin to generate electricity at winds of 8 miles per hour and generate maximum power at 36 miles per hour.

The wind turbines can operate with winds up to 56 miles per hour. At higher wind speeds, they turn out of the wind to prevent damage to turbine parts.”

I talked with El Paso Electric spokesperson Eddie Gutierrez this morning and he says that the company has found out that the wind is not the most efficient renewable energy resource for the Borderland. Gutierrez says “because of how strong our winds are and their unpredictability they can be and are damaging to the wind turbines. The high maintenance costs can have a negative impact on consumers.” As stated above in the Hueco Wind Farm turbine description; “The wind turbines can operate with winds up to 56 miles per hour. At higher wind speeds, they turn out of the wind to prevent damage to turbine parts.” We have wind speeds that exceed the 56 mph many days a year especially at the higher elevations, like on top of the Hueco Mountains. Gutierrez says that because of these environmental factors, El Paso Electric has no plans to expand the wind farm.

The company is focusing on Solar Energy instead.

El Paso Electric has one solar field, the Newman Facility that is located in northeast El Paso that is the size of 80 Football fields, generating 10 Mega watts of electricity, enough to 4,000 homes. The other, Macho Springs Facility is currently under construction and will be the size of 300+ football fields, producing 50 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 17,000 homes! When Macho Springs Solar Facility is completed this coming June, El Paso Electric will be the largest solar energy producing Utility of it size in the country! Very cool! This makes sense since El Paso is technically the 4th sunniest city in the nation with 84% annual sunshine!

Check on my “Weather Talk” articles below for more solar information:
El Paso is one of the Sunniest Cities in the Nation
Should We Power Our Lives with the Borderland Sunshine?

Our Borderland winds are powerful and have many variables that cause them to speed up at a moments notice. I can see how they could wear out wind turbines and consequently cost a lot of money to maintain. Solar energy is more of a consistent, reliable resource. Considering the large number of sunny days the Borderland has, it makes sense to invest in solar energy as a renewable energy resource.

Chuck DeBroder, Chief Meteorologist

KTSM, NewsChannel 9, NBC, El Paso, TX


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